Belugas are extremely sociable mammals that live, hunt and migrate together in pods, ranging from a few individuals to hundreds of whales.
How are beluga whales responding to Arctic sea ice loss?
Every spring, two populations of beluga whales migrate thousands of kilometres to the open waters of the Arctic seas north of Alaska to forage during the short Arctic summers. But as Donna Hauser explains, the rapid loss of sea ice and expanding open-water season raises the question: How may this affect the belugas?Read more
- scientific name
2.6 to 4.5 m
Least concern (IUCN)
Threats to belugas
Where do belugas live?
Most populations of beluga migrate. In autumn, they move south as the ice forms in the Arctic. In spring, they return to their northern feeding areas when the ice breaks up In summer, they are often found near river mouths, and sometimes even venture up river. One beluga in Alaska was spotted 1000km inland, swimming up the Yukon River. However, a few populations do not follow this migratory pattern, including those in the Cook Inlet, Alaska and the St. Lawrence estuary in Canada.
What do belugas eat?
Salmon, capelin, herring, shrimp, arctic cod, flounder, crabs and molluscs. They feed in open water (pelagic) and bottom (benthic) habitats, in both shallow and deepwater areas. Belugas have been recorded diving to more than 350 metres to feed.
How long do belugas live?
Tooth sectioning studies show that beluga whales typically live 30 to 35 years. Belugas can become trapped by freezing ice and starve or suffocate. Polar bears hunt belugas, especially if the whale is trapped in a small "lead" or open water.
How do belugas communicate?
Their bulbous forehead, called a "melon", is flexible and capable of changing shape. This allows them to make different facial expressions and produce a series of chirps, clicks, whistles and squeals, which give the beluga its other name, "the canary of the sea." These songs are probably used to communicate with other beluga and to help them find food through echolocation.
How we work
Whales depend on sound to survive. WWF is working to limit sound pollution in Arctic waters by making parts of the ocean important for whales off limits to particularly loud industrial activities.
Increasing demand for Greenlandic resources means ship traffic is likely to grow significantly over the next few decades. WWF advises on the risks and engages communities and governments in discussions about best practices for shipping and marine spatial planning.
WWF has created maps and posters for Canadian ships in the Arctic to help mariners identify and avoid marine mammals.
The narwhal is famous for the long ivory tusk which spirals counter-clockwise several feet forward from its upper lip. The tusk is actually the whale's upper left canine tooth. Male narwhals commonly have a single tusk, but they sometimes have two tusks, or none at all. Around 15% of females have a tusk.
The walrus is easily recognised by its sheer size and magnificent tusks. It is a keystone species in Arctic marine ecosystems. The walrus was once threatened by commercial hunting, but today the biggest danger it faces is climate change.